Theme and Variations

Artist, Gill Robinson has always had a passion for music and in early 2007 she set out on a series of works exploring performance.  Below she explains the inspiration behind her ‘Theme and Variations’ project.

THEME AND VARIATIONS

I began working with Mark Eden and Christopher Stell in January 2007 on a project to make a series of drawings of them playing during rehearsal. I wanted to explore the idea of musical performance visually, trying to capture and convey something of the powerful intensity and dynamic interaction of their work.

Their playing style radiates both energy and containment. The music they create has an exciting and absorbing counterpoint of punchy directness and infinite subtlety, a revelatory freshness and vitality which I have tried to reflect in the variety of techniques and approaches used in these paintings and drawings.

The dynamic interplay of a double figure composition is especially interesting and challenging – particularly so when working from two constantly moving subjects! It necessitates constant looking, working with bursts of speed and setting down fleeting observations as spontaneously as possible to try to create a feeling of immediacy similar to that experienced by the audience during a live concert.

Each painting carries the physical history of layers of paint and marks set down during the sittings and afterwards in continuing work in the studio. In trying to distil moments of live performance, the painting undergoes numerous changes, resulting in a piece which is an intense focus of many hours of observation. In some ways the painting process echoes that of rehearsal and performance: as Mark and Chris work on pieces of their repertoire they experiment with interpretation, colour and subtleties of emphasis to articulate the expressive qualities of the music.

The Eden Stell Duo have a strong personality and seek to push the boundaries and range of classical guitar music, playing works written for them by contemporary composers as well as classical repertoire. In the drawings I wanted to reflect this variety – classicism and contemporary – through the visual metaphor of different drawing media, techniques and marks, using pencil, charcoal, conte, and mixed media, drawing with ink and layering with pastel. The drawings increasingly became an expression of the musical idea ‘Theme and Variations’.

Along the way the project began to suggest other ideas too: the separate nature of, but parallels between, the language of Art and Music are fascinating. In an abstract sense we refer to ‘colour’ in music, likewise to ‘harmony’ within a painting. ‘Structure‘ underpins both music and painting. We talk of a’ melodic line’ as an almost visual concept, and the ‘rhythm’ of a drawn line as a musical metaphor. Many painters have been inspired by the deeply expressive quality of music and some composers have been inspired in turn by the expressive vision of painting. A composer friend describes music as ‘that which cannot be expressed in words’ – I think the same description lends itself very well to the act of painting.

I have approached the project with musical metaphors or parallels very much in mind: the series consists of a central subject or theme, interpreted in various ways, exploring different techniques – variations.

As the series progressed, I wanted to push the boundaries of my own drawing experience – working sequentially from a state of pure observation, the intensity of the shared experience of performer and audience, towards a creative expression of the dynamic of movement and the ephemeral but intensely powerful nature of musical performance. Paradoxically the layers of observational history contained within the process of making the drawings create a symbolic artefact of that ephemeral experience.

I hope you will experience a kaleidoscopic series of glimpses, fragments, moments of time, visual harmony and discord – a weaving together of strands of art and music which complement one another and form a coherent body of work: a painterly response to the inspirational work of two very fine guitarists and musicians, Mark Eden and Chris Stell.

Gill Robinson – August 2008

Exhibition at West Dean College as part of the Guitar Festival

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